Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Maybe Elizabeth Warren has some explaining to do – as she seems to be in a 2012 visit to Takoma Park, Maryland. (Photo: Edward Kimmel via Flickr)

The amount of damage the left is willing to do itself and the nation in the name of healing is as astonishing as the amount of division it sows in the name of inclusion. We’re talking about U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who enraged Native Americans by trying to disable an attack used against her by President Donald Trump that will surely return if she runs against him in 2020.

Native American ancestry had long been a part of Warren family lore, as it is for many in Oklahoma and the surrounding region, where she grew up. It was as a Democratic candidate for the Senate in 2012 that her citing of that ancestry in a Harvard Law School directory first got called out, and it’s been used against her relentlessly ever since from Republicans such as Trump happy to jeer at her as a “Pocahontas” claiming a heritage without justification. A DNA test was meant to shut Trump up and eliminate the ancestry as a talking point.

Instead, Warren is all over the news as embattled by the very people with whom she feels kinship and whom she supports as a Democrat and as a progressive. Here’s how strong the rage is among Native Americans who think Warren’s DNA test was insensitive, and even racist, via a Wednesday piece in The New York Times by Astead W. Herndon:

Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist who has thoroughly tracked Ms. Warren’s claims of native ancestry since it became national news in 2012, said her “jaw was on the floor” when she saw Ms. Warren’s decision to take the DNA test, and the slick video that accompanied the announcement of the results.

Ms. Barnes said Ms. Warren had an opportunity to teach the broader public about how genetic testing has historically been used as a weapon against Native communities, but instead she “helped perpetuate a very dangerous idea.”

It has pushed Ms. Barnes, a self-described liberal, to make something of a personal pledge: She will never vote for Ms. Warren under any circumstance, including in an election against Mr. Trump.

Warren also stumbled in trying to take a position on the Standing Rock oil pipeline, the previous time Native Americans were so prominently in the news. But no person of color should seek to tear down even the clumsiest potential candidate against Trump’s increasingly white nationalist America, where children seeking asylum are teargassed at the Mexican border and even the basic tenet of birthright citizenship is suddenly under siege. Divisiveness between supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton led to doubts and damaging narratives in 2016 that helped elect Trump, and the result has been the rapid undoing of environmental, economic and legislative progress that could take decades to fix. If it doesn’t literally kill us first, that is.

And here we go again as members of groups that should be uniting against fascism, racism, sexist policies and violence would rather attack allies – albeit imperfect ones who may have a lot to learn – than use political leverage to demand a seat at the table. The destruction gets support from others on the left sympathetic to long-oppressed peoples seeking to claim their power.

But it’s destruction all the same at a time we need strength in numbers – many of us, to make sure we don’t soon wind up on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence – and that makes it worthwhile to remember that Warren has never tried to claim a tribal identity; her identification of Native American ancestry has always been exaggerated by her political enemies, who are likely Russian as well as Republican, and this kind of outrage rewards them. And her intent was certainly not racist, even if some will argue her actions unintentionally were.

Compare that with the GOP, which is willing to whisk white supremacists and putative pedophiles into office so long as they’ll vote the right way on abortion, tax cuts for the wealthy  and ending Obamacare. 

Maybe Warren won’t be a candidate for president in 2020. But if she is the Democratic candidate and loses, it’s all too likely that it’s then that voters such as Twila Barnes will learn the real cost of turning their back on a bad friend to let through a true enemy.